Russia designates The Bell a ‘foreign agent’
We expected it for a long time — and it finally happened. The Ministry of Justice added The Bell on Friday to its register of so-called foreign agents (back in the spring, our founders, journalists Elizaveta Osetinskaya and Irina Malkova, were put on the list).
- The decision to list The Bell as a foreign agent was taken without any court hearing or investigation, so we do not know precisely why we were included. It is possible we could find out in court, if we try to contest the decision. However, it is hardly likely that we would win a case in a Russian courtroom.
- At the moment, there are almost 500 individuals and organizations on the Russian government’s list of foreign agents. The number was rising even before the war, and has only grown more rapidly since. Now, the list includes almost every independent media outlet, blogger and artist that has spoken against the invasion of Ukraine.
- Recently, the Russian authorities introduced a separate list of “individuals affiliated with foreign agents.” In all probability, this will include all independent journalists. Apparently, The Bell was the first media outlet to be subjected to this rule: all our staff have been listed in a separate column of the “foreign agents” register. At present, legal restrictions only prevent these “affiliated persons” from standing for election in Russia. But that could change: the authorities have already toughened the laws on foreign agents once this year.
- What does it mean in practice when an organization is listed as a foreign agent? Well, if you relied on advertising to survive, you can kiss goodbye to that business model. If you relied on donations, be prepared for the fact that part of your audience will be too scared to continue supporting you.
- However, we are not about to give up. The state’s objective is to hamstring independent media. But we will continue to work from wherever we can.
Why the world should care
The war in Ukraine has completely changed our lives and our work. Journalists in Russia face greater risks than ever before. Repressive new laws threaten up to 15 years in jail for objectively reporting on events. More and more people – including the founder and editor-in-chief of The Bell – find themselves listed as “foreign agents”.
We are continuing our work, and we believe that this is more important than ever. What we do best of all is investigate the financial situation around the Russian government – and the war will end when the money runs out. The Bell has never hidden its content behind a paywall or asked readers for money. We have always paid our own way. However, in the new political climate, Russian independent media can no longer raise money through advertising. Our business model is in ruins.
We don’t want to charge a fee for our newsletter and as long as it is possible, we will continue to circulate it free of charge. However, if The Bell is to continue its work, we need your support.